Commentary | Letters

There’s no such thing as a value-free judgment
RE: Tuition and our sense of entitlement (Commentary, March 23, Online)

Murtaza Shambhoora’s Hyde Park “Tuition and Our Sense of Entitlement (Commentary, March 23) is an example of what I find to be a pervasive phenomenon in many public debates, particularly the current debate on university funding in Quebec.

Mr. Shambhoora points to the idea that “biased statistics from each side and heavily normative arguments on the future of higher education have misguided the argument.” Biased statistics aside, I want to focus on the second part of that sentence. It should come as no surprise that those pesky normative arguments – arguments about beliefs, values, and norms – get in the way of what are often termed “purely economic” reasoning. I think what is happening here is that Mr. Shambhoora, like so many others, is faced with a debate that has serious normative implications. But instead of directly engaging with them, he chooses to circumscribe his discussion to one about economics. I strongly believe that there is an argumentative requirement to justify the decision to limit discussion in this way: what about this economic argument overshadows the importance of the normative ones?

There are two problems here: the first is the idea that the debate can be reduced to an economic discussion (which seems to be the implication when someone says that normative considerations have obscured the argument), indeed that the debate is “just a matter” of economics. The statement about “normative arguments” betrays the fact that we are faced with an issue that cannot be conclusively approached from only one perspective. The second problem is the notion that economic discussions on public policy are somehow value-free, or that they do not have normative content. The reason why “normative arguments” get in the way of economic reasoning is because economic choices have normative implications and vice-versa. The primacy of debt reduction over other economic priorities, the notion that the middle class cannot be additionally taxed and Mr. Shambhoora’s claim that “students need to stop pretending that fighting for lower tuition rates right now is in the interest of future generations” are all examples of assertions that are presented as economic facts, yet they all contain strong normative implications. In fact, the very claim that normative arguments have steered the debate in the wrong direction shows that an attempt to make a value-free argument is doomed to failure. Instead, we ought to recognize this difficulty and, as I said above, we ought to justify the claims we make to overcome it.

The notion that such an important, multifaceted debate can be “won” by delineating the arena as purely economic (or, indeed, “purely” anything) is disingenuous and short-sighted. This approach allows us nothing but the privilege of patting ourselves on the back and continuing to refuse to engage with what is a large, complex debate with serious ramifications for our society. The outcome of such a debate, I think, is unlikely to be a decisive victory by either side, no matter how many times they appeal to “common sense” as the underlying logic of their position. No one is doing anyone any favours by continuing to act as though one of the most contentious debates not only in Quebec, but in much of the world, can be resolved without considering its normative implications.

Thanks again,

Sam Rose
U3, Political Science

AHCSSA supports DESA

We are writing to declare our support for the Department of English Student Association (DESA) and to condemn the decision made by the Department of English faculty to censure its own undergraduate student association. Given the significant overlap in the number of students with programs in English and Art History and/or Communication Studies, DESA’s invaluable cooperation in our first strike vote, and our role as a fellow student association, we feel inclined to show our solidarity and express our disapproval with the censure. We consider the decision to censure a needless and deeply inappropriate display of antagonism and authority on the part of English professors (with respect to the lack of total agreement among the English faculty). We view this in light of the cooperation and respect given to Art History and Communication Studies Student Association (AHCSSA) students by AHCS faculty concerning the vote to strike, and as of this past Tuesday, not to strike. We furthermore greatly appreciate the sentiments expressed in a recent letter from AHCS professors to the AHCSSA stating their full support for the decisions made by AHCSSA students, and hope English professors can find an alternative to conflict through similar actions. Lastly, we acknowledge not only the necessity of productive and meaningful dialogue between students and professors, but also the autonomy of departmental associations and the decisions they make as a collective body. The AHCSSA executive have decided to write this letter on behalf of the AHCSSA out of obligation to the well-being and dignity of student associations throughout the university.

The AHCSSA executive

Drug addictions aren’t necessarily conflict related
Re: The land of milk and heroin (Health and Education, March 8, Page 7)

“The Land of Milk and Heroin,” (Health and Education, March 8, Page 7) references Al-Quds University estimates that there are now 6,000 people addicted to heroin in East Jerusalem alone, compared to 300 in 1986 and claims by Palestine TV that “Israeli authorities are actually responsible for encouraging and facilitating heroin use among Arabs for political reasons…..as an attempt to depoliticize the group.”

Yet, according to the Israel Anti-Drug Authority (IADA), there is no difference between rates of heroin use among Arab or Jewish users in Israel, except for one: Jewish women have a higher rate of heroin use than Arab women. Israel’s heroin-using population is smaller than average among developed (OECD) countries, with approximately 15,000-20,000 heroin users (not 300,000, as alleged in the article). According to the IADA, when it comes to the drug trade, Jews and Arabs alike smuggle, deal, use and seek treatment or rehabilitation services anywhere in the country. Al-Ram, governed by the Palestinian Authority, is outside Israel’s jurisdiction. Regarding East Jerusalem, among other things, the Israeli Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services runs a local day clinic for drug addicts who have successfully completed treatment programs of the Israeli Ministry of Health. Participants spend five days a week, all day long, in the clinic throughout a six month period while continuing to reside at home.

Israel also offers low-threshold programs for harm reduction, such as needle exchanges and condom distribution, as well as free coffee, showers, clean clothes and sandwiches, to help lower the rates of the spread of infectious diseases and improve the quality of life of drug addicts who are not yet willing to commit to treatment programs.

Rather than conflict-related drug use, Dr. Walid Hadad, Arab Society Supervisor at the IADA, links drug use to social problems primarily resulting from Arab society’s transition from a traditional to a modern way of life.

In other words, the claim that Israeli authorities ““encourage and facilitate heroin use among Arabs for political reasons” is not credible.

Michelle Whiteman
Quebec Regional Director
HonestReporting Canada


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